Youth as shapers of development in the region
The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) launched the latest edition of the Arab Human Development Report (AHDR) at AUB. Sixth in a series of AHDRs issued since 2002, the Arab Human Development Report 2016: Youth and the Prospects for Human Development in a Changing Reality examines challenges and opportunities facing youth in the Arab region and provides data that stimulate a broad dialogue on the future of development across Arab countries. The report presents ways to empower youth as partners in shaping their own future as well as their countries’.
Over 200 people from across the region—students, academics, and representatives from civil society, NGOs, government institutions, media, and the private sector—participated in discussions of youth-related regional issues raised in the report which was prepared by a team of experts and researchers including a number of AUB faculty members, and was led by AUB Associate Professor of Economics Jad Chaaban.
“Young people are as critical to what this report tries to achieve as other societal stakeholders, politicians, and government decision-makers are,” asserted Sophie de Caen, acting Director of the Regional Bureau for Arab States in UNDP. “What better setting to engage all and especially the youth than such a leading academic institution, well-respected throughout the region, as the American University of Beirut.
The report examines the aftermath of the protests in the region in 2011 from the human development perspective, shedding light on religion, identity, the effects of war and armed conflict, and violent extremism. It describes dynamics of youth disempowerment: scant suitable work opportunities, weak political participation, poor quality public services in health and education, mismanaged social diversity, hindered gender equality, and prolonged conflicts that undermine the gains of development. The report uses important data to call for investing in Arab youth and in empowering them to play a significant role in the region’s development processes.
“The Arab region today holds an unprecedented estimated 105 million people aged between 15 and 29 years,” said Dr. Chaaban as Report Team Leader. “This is a historic opportunity to invest in an energetic category of society that has much underutilized potential. The report highlights social, economic, gender, and other inequalities in access to services such as education, health, and job opportunities. Policy-makers should take these numbers seriously. These inequalities are becoming increasingly known through today’s information means and this knowledge can feed future conflicts.”
As countries of the world embark on the preparation of their national strategies to implement the globally agreed 2030 Agenda for sustainable development, the Arab Human Development report 2016 sees the investment in the region’s youth as an urgent priority and an essential condition to achieving sustainable development.
“I look at our youth with optimism because I think there is a sense of resiliency and a sense that this youth is not waiting for the grand intervention of the western states, or even the great universities, or the United Nations, to save them,” said President Fadlo R. Khuri. “They want us to help them; that is very evident in this report. But they don’t want saving. They want support, they want opportunity, they want to save themselves.
“That’s why every day, when I come on this campus, I don’t see 8,700 future victims of inculturation; I can see 8,700 students who want to learn and adapt and make their own future in their own civil society.”
President Khuri said that the way to help youth is through education and empowerment. He added that AUB currently provides, through partnerships with NGOs and governmental agencies, full scholarships plus room and board to 400 students, and aims to further increase accessibility to education through many more scholarships and partnerships.
“To us in universities, to you in the UN, to all of us, our job is to remove the roadblocks and to empower youth; to engage them and to educate them. I am convinced … that this generation is going to do marvels. We know they could do marvels, because we see it every day.”
Like President Khuri, UN Secretary General’s Envoy on Youth, Ahmad AlHendawi said that data are powerful and they empower today’s youth.
“More information is needed and more reading of the information is needed. The only way to understand and develop the role and status of Arab youth is to listen to our youth today, read the numbers, and see the whole picture,” he said.
Throughout sessions of the launch, AUB students engaged in debates and discussions on issues of identity, economic opportunity, and roles that youth in the Arab region can play in shaping the future.